Our democracy is safe in the hands of the Indian voter

A few weeks ago, as the Indian electorate across the country started casting their votes, my interest in Indian elections started galloping. A deep dive into elections made me realise that the 15th general elections were going to be an inflection point which could change the course of Indian politics.

As I woke up on the day of counting, two thoughts crossed my mind. First, what message will the Indian voter convey in the current elections? Second, on what basis does the Indian electorate vote? As I am neither a psephologist nor an astrologer, I kept these questions to myself to get the answers through the Indian voter. For generations we have accepted the ‘press’ as a vital element of democracy. It has been known as the Fourth Estate because it has come to represent a counterbalance to the executive, legislature and judiciary.

Signs of dilution

In politics, it is fair to say that the Indian voter is the Fourth Estate representing a counterbalance to the political parties of different ideologies — the Left, Right and Centre. Time and again, the Indian voter has drawn the contours of dos and don’ts in politics and chastened the parties when our democracy showed signs of dilution.

The first signs of dilution of democracy were evident when Indira Gandhi imposed emergency. In the general elections of 1977, the electorate firmly rejected authoritarianism and voted Indira out of office. Afterwards, she changed tack, and won the elections in 1980. The lesson taught by the Indian voter had such salutary effect that no political party has ventured in that direction since then.

The second signs of dilution were evident when caste-based politics got heightened at the national level as the V. P. Singh government decided to implement the recommendations of the Mandal Commission. Later, in the 1991 elections, the Janata Dal made a poor showing and slowly receded into background thereafter.

The third signs of dilution were evident when religion became an important factor in Indian politics. The BJP saw a meteoric rise on the basis of the ‘Hindutva’ movement. From winning a mere two seats in 1984, it won 182 seats in 1999. But since then, the BJP’s vote share has declined and has fallen to 18 per cent in the 2009 elections. The Indian voter has shown that the ‘Hindutva’ brand of politics is acting as a limiting factor and has sent ominous signs for the BJP to revisit its ideology.

The fourth signs of dilution were evident when regionalism threatened to get ahead of nationalism. Many regional parties envisaged a greater role at the Centre at the cost of national parties. The voter has firmly rejected any such wild proposition and decisively shown that the national parties will be at the centre stage and the regional parties at the periphery.

The Indian electorate

Coming to the second thought raised in the article, on what basis does Indian electorate vote? To talk about Indian voter in a singular sense amidst manifold heterogeneity in India is a stupendous task. Among the Indian electorate, for some caste, for some religion, for some charisma, for some poll promises of free rice and for some performance, would matter.

The “Miracle of aggregation” — an idea formalised in a mathematical demonstration by the social theorist Marquis de Condorcet — seems to work in Indian democracy. He showed that a group trying to reach a decision by a majority vote (and in which each individual is making an independent judgment) is very likely to reach a correct decision even if each individual is only slightly more likely to reach the correct conclusion than he would simply by flipping a coin. Applied to electoral politics, Condorcet’s logic suggests that the electorate as a whole may be much wiser than any individual voter.

Any doubt on the collective wisdom of the Indian voter has been put to rest in the current elections.

The fact that people think differently at different times makes today’s issues irrelevant tomorrow. As the election results were out, I took comfort in the fact that our democracy is in safe hands — the Indian voter.